I remember it vividly as though it happened yesterday. on February 20th 2014, exactly 15 months and 3 weeks ago, I was briskly wheeled into an operating room, thousands of miles away from home, with only one sibling and a new friend in the waiting room .
A delicate spinal surgery was the only way out, to get rid of the ugly tumor which had developed at the tail end of my spinal chord, and now threatened to paralyze me halfway down! It was only 7.00 a.m. in the morning, but I would stay on that operating table for slightly over 11 hours, as I came to learn later. Till today, I can only imagine the palpable tension in the waiting room as my bro Kenya Julius and his friend Ahmed Ngombo anxiously waited, without the benefit of any updates, for me to be wheeled out of theater.
meanwhile, in the operating room, I had taken a rare walk. The moment I was told to breath in deeply from some mask, I became lighter and lighter then floated away into nothingness. From then on, time was at a standstill. I hovered in an unfamiliar territory dotted with very bright lights. This must have been the land between the dead and the living.
After what seemed like 20 minutes, I snapped back from my heavenly walk, only to see ten partially masked Asian faces staring down at me. Then one of them mumbled something like, “He is back!” I could not understand what he meant but the look in their faces told me that they were happy to see me. I was glad I was back too, though I did not know from where.
I felt a very sharp pain in my lower back as though someone had stuck a sharp knife in there. When I was being wheeled out back to my hospital room, I could barely make out the faces of my brother and his friend, from the corner of one of my eyes that was still open, as they rushed to my side. The other eye was closed and my face was swollen like one that had been stung by 100 bees. This must have been due to sleeping facing down, while wearing a hard oxygen mask, for so long.
I remember incoherently asking my brother where they were taking me and telling him to tell the doctors to pull out whatever they had stuck in my back immediately. Then I heard one of the doctors tell him that it was successful and that I was only delirious due to the effects of anesthesia. It then dawned on me that I was in the Southern Indian,Bangalore Baptist Hospital and that I had actually undergone a spinal surgery! “But didn’t they take me in there about 20 minutes ago?” I feebly asked Julius. I was utterly astonished when he told me that it was 5.30 p.m. in the evening!
The wheels of the hospital bed made a funny rumbling sound as they wheeled me back to my room. I must have uttered some more incoherent words before I heard Ahmed say in Swahili, “Huyo bado amelewa dawa” (The guy is still drunk from anesthesia). Then I went back to sleep.
There are few defining moments in a man’s life, but I am sure there is none like the moment you stare death in the face. You suddenly start thinking with a new clarity. The futility of the journey that we call LIFE is laid bare right before your eyes. The moment I was wheeled into that operating room, I knew what I was getting into. I knew that it could take just a simple mistake and I could be gone from the face of earth forever. I still can’t believe that for 11 long hours, I was breathing through a machine, at the mercy of some ten strangers who would decide to switch it off at will!
It is at such defining moments that you catch yourself wondering why we sometimes feel so important and arrogant when the life in us is such a fragile commodity. I will never forget what I saw in the eyes of those doctors staring down at me when I came to. It was pure compassion. They were Asian and I was African. They did not know me and I did not know them. Yet they could afford to be on their feet for 11 good hours without as much as a sip of water, fighting for what they believed in. LIFE. They were simply doing doing the work that God had called them to do.
If there is any important lesson that I learnt from that defining moment, then it must be the need to love all people regardless of where they come from. Every time I look at people, I see a piece of me in them. All of us go through struggles and stuff in life, regardless of our status in society. However, we should learn to be happy and enjoy the little joys that life throws our way. We must learn to laugh even at our own problems, and love even more.
At various points in life, each of us must hit the rock bottom face first. During such times, it doesn’t matter how hard you hit the rock at the bottom, but you will always be required to make an important decision: to either remain down there, with your nose against the cold rock, or spring back up no matter what. My defining moment came on 20th February 2014, and I decided long before going into surgery that I would come out of it stronger that I was before. I promised myself that I wasn’t going to allow the surgery take me down. And that is exactly what I did.
………….TO BE CONTINUED